The Leftovers S03E08: 'The Book Of Nora' [Series Finale]

The elevator pitch for The Leftovers has always been that it's a show about loss. That it's a show about how everyone is depressed, maniacal and sometimes suicidal after 2% of the world's population mysteriously vanishes. Despite how good the show has proven to be, it's, as you might imagine, not a very effective pitch. After all, considering it always promised to simply "let the mystery be" and dove balls first into both weirdness an emotion, it became a show that was hard to truly describe, hard to convey what it truly meant to me as a viewer (despite how I purport that conveying information is my job as a reviewer). It's not quite sci fi, not quote straight drama, it was always something in between, and therefore unique.

That being said, following "The Book of Nora", the show's long-awaited series finale, I think I have the perfect qualifier for what I believe Damon Lindelof wanted the show to be about. It's not about the plot, or about loss, it's about something else. It's about regret.

I'm sure there are plenty of people that have posited this already on the internet and that I'm not original for saying it, but more than ever before, in "The Book of Nora", you can see it on both Nora and Kevin's faces. Nora's conflict was never truly about finding her children, about dealing with that loss. That was a hump she needed to get over, after which she would be able to realize what she truly left behind. Notably Kevin. But seeing that this is Nora, arguably one of television's all-time most stubborn characters, it takes a lot more than just a kick in the pants for her to realize this. She has to go through an entire journey to come to her senses about her loss, and then a whole other journey, as well as Kevin tracking her down against all odds, to realize the regret that her mistakes have cost her.

And the beauty of it is that the way it's presented, combined with everything we know about the show and its characters, tells me that, for all we know, none of what we see and hear in "The Book of Nora" might actually be true. The only things we know as facts are that Nora went through the machine, and that, on some level, Kevin is psychotic. We see something happen to Kevin in last week's crazy episode, we see Nora go through the machine, and then we're transported to the future where just about everyone is happy and Kevin and Nora wind up living happily every after, after sharing their respective stories about the crazy shit they've been through.

Someone naive, or at least trusting, would take what happens here at face value. Nora explains that after going through the radiation machine, she wakes up in the exact same spot, naked, and alone. Not only in the parking lot, but seemingly everywhere. Australia seems abandoned, until she finds some people who tell her about how they've lost almost everyone in their lives. So she travels back to Mapleton, which is difficult with 98% of the population gone, and winds up finding her family among abandoned houses, and then and there realizes that they're the happy ones. In this world, they're together. She realizes that to them, she's the ghost, and she would be a burden. So she tracks down the man who invented the machine, makes him invent it again and travels back, too embarrassed and afraid to tell her story to the people she knew and love.

First of all, holy shit. What Lindelof does in the last fifteen minutes of this finale ostensibly violates every storytelling convention. He tells, and doesn't show. All of the above is expressed matter-of-factly by Nora in a closeup that seldom ever breaks to show Kevin's reaction to her story. It vividly describes something that could be a whole other season of this show; Nora traveling another plane of existence where the other 2% of people went on October 14th, navigating a seemingly post-apocalyptic world where most of the population is gone. Imagine the stories? Her waking up in a nearly abandoned Australia, figuring out what the realities and politics of this world are, where and how it exists, how to get back to Mapleton, finding the man who invented the machine, hell, even visiting that one weird town in Texas where literally everyone disappeared.

There is a lot to unpack in one short monologue, but that's a whole other show. Not in terms of a spinoff, but just a different show than what The Leftovers was ever intended to be. Lindelof always gave us the impression that he'd never explain what happened on October 14th. He technically doesn't here in the finale, but he gives us enough to make some inferences, to connect the dots and come to the conclusion that the other people probably live on some other astral plane of existence where we can't see them and they can't see us. Like some sort of Doctor Strange astral/magical shit. Maybe it was the result of some sort of physics experiment gone wrong, maybe it was actually an act of God. You're free to infer your own conclusion, and that's what makes Lindelof's choices so brazen and so great. You could also infer that Nora is lying because she can't stand to tell Kevin what actually happened, or that she knows from Nora that he's still psychotic. Maybe she herself is psychotic, maybe she said "stop" while she was in the tank, as implied and lived out the next few decades of her life in shame, or maybe the whole thing is part of a delusion that Kevin never woke up from after his adventure as the president of the United States and his twin brother assailant.

Again, that's the beauty of the show. It's a whirlwind. It simultaneously finds a way to answer everything and nothing. It leaves you wanting more, inferring what actually happened, what comes next and wondering about everything that happened in the meantime.

And the reason it pulls it off is because of the characters. At the end of the day, this isn't really a show about the Sudden Departure, about what people do after that kind of loss. It's a show about two specific people, about their respective paths towards each other, about how they overcome obstacles and about the regret that's permanently etched on their faces after they've realized what they missed by being stubborn and not embracing each other. I would be lying if I said that final scene didn't make me feel all sorts of things for all sorts of different reasons, but more than anything, it was Carrie Coon and Justin Theroux, looking at each other with such longing, that drove those feelings, and, as it turns out, drove the entire series.

"The Book of Nora" sticks a perfect landing for a show with incredibly high expectations, and from a showrunner who absolutely needed it. The series finale of The Leftovers gets 10 terminally ill geckos out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Gratuitous Justin Theroux Butt Shots: 0, but holy hell, Carrie Coon spends a lot of time naked in this episode, although none of it is gratuitous.
  • Speaking of Justin Theroux's looks, if nothing else, this episode convinced me that he's going to look amazing when he's older.
  • Believe what you will about Nora's story, but if she wasn't lying, it only leaves me with one gripe: what are the odds that the physicist was back in Australia? Otherwise, how did she end up back there on the 98% side?
  • And if it is true, again, holy shit. Doesn't that put the entire show in perspective? We've been looking at it from the point of view of the 98% that still has each other and that still lives in a world that mostly operates. Imagine being the 2%, in that world, where most of your loved ones are just gone?
  • Other things to note from this finale: Basically everyone back in Jardin is happy. Kevin still lives in the same house, Laurie (who didn't kill herself scuba diving, unless of course the flash forward was complete bullshit) and Kevin live next door, Michael runs the church. Tom and Jill both got married (Jill had a kid). Matt wound up dying, but Marie delivered the eulogy and a bunch of people showed up to show their affection for the reverend. Basically everyone winds up happy.
  • That Australian couple had a killer wedding playlist.
  • Justin Theroux delivering the monologue about how he traveled to Australia every year on his two week vacation to search for Nora is fucking heartbreaking and needs to get him an Emmy nomination. And leave it to Nora to break that tension by inviting him in for tea.
  • As much as this show is beloved, I have a feeling there will be a vocal minority that will absolutely hate this finale, much like the people that didn't get the Lost finale (fight me in the comments).